Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol
The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls
Speaking of trips, Meg Miroshnik's script (which benefits from absolutely singular direction by Rachel Chavkin) finds Annie (Emily Walton), born in Russia but brought up in America, returning to her native land. It is 2005 and, within the context of this 21st century Grimm Brothers-like story, she finds her way to the "home" of her Aunt Yaroslava (Felicity Jones). Jones also plays the agitating witch, Baba Yaga. The push and pull here is that Annie, seeking to speak Russian with clarity and learn something about business, is, in theory, comforted by her aunt. Baba Yaga is, to say the least, strange; she is also threatening. Each time Baba Yaga moves, she audibly creaks (sound supplied by Chad Raines). The device is intriguing at first but it becomes a bit much. In essence, Annie is fed to grow fatter and we can guess what might follow.
The performance begins with Masha (Sofiya Akilova) narrating. Others in the cast include Celeste Arias as Katya, Stephanie Hayes as Other Katya and Nastya, Jessica Jelliffe as Olga, Passport Control Office, Professor, and Valentina. The women also comprise a blaring, glaring punk band which is situated stage right. Every so often, blinding lighting (directed straight at the house audience) by Bradley King mixes with Chad Raines' musical compositions.
A nearby boyfriend of Masha's is currently a bear who is anything but beneficent. As she navigates Moscow, Annie, through her women friends, discovers that city nightlife is not gentle. The line of dialogue "In Russia, you're girl until you're senior citizen" is telling. At one point, Annie calls her mother, who is back in the United States, to explain what she experiences.
These "Fairytale Lives" need to be seen and heard more than once to be more fully understood. Playwright Miroshnik provides material which is symbolic as it blends folklore with harsh reality. The production has a quite sharp cutting edge.
Throughout, one feels the audacious strength of the women. Youthful, they live in Russia, a difficult place during this epoch of time. Miroshnik paints edgy characters who have chutzpah and smarts: they will blast through.
Annie is new to her circumstances and appropriately naïve. Her Russian friends are educating her and, collectively, they will challenge. KJ Kim's wardrobe choices are splendid: there is a wondrous mix of contemporary with old world. Set design, by Christopher Ash, enhances all: it is a treat to watch actor Felicity Jones move about her "abode."
The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls is arresting and aggressive. There are monsters in Moscow, and the political situation, too, is far from optimal. Miroshnik acknowledges this and the need to find dollars to survive. Her script requires multi-dimensional performance and production elements to match. The Yale Rep rendering meets those requirements. I would not call this a pleasant evening in the theater, nor is that the intent. Nothing is terribly sweet about the show. Call it discomfiting. The creative team and a powerful contingent of actors often take all of it directly to the audience.
The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls continues at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven through February 22nd. For tickets, visit yalerep.org. or call (203) 432-1234.
- Fred Sokol